Announcing a New Book



When I decided to switch from population dynamics to historical dynamics — Cliodynamics — my main interest was to understand the past. But every time I gave a talk about secular cycles and structural-demographic dynamics in such societies as medieval and early modern England, France, and Russia, someone in the audience invariably asked, “And where are we?” So I started gathering data for the United States and I modified models, which were developed for agrarian states, to fit the social structures of industrializing and post-industrial societies. This was many years ago.

By 2010 it became clear to me that the structural-demographic theory (SDT) generalizes very well. Essentially, it’s about complex large-scale societies that can be represented as a population-elites-the state system. Agrarian versus industrial distinction is important but doesn’t affect the basic logic of the model. In the United States we have common people, or the 99%, the elites (the 1%), and the state, just like in the Roman Empire. Yes, the Romans did not have smartphones, but the power relations in complex human societies are surprisingly durable.

It also became clear that the answer to the question, “And where are  we?” is: in the pre-crisis phase of the secular cycle. Thus, when in 2010 Nature asked me to comment on the coming decade, I wrote “Political instability may be a contributor in the coming decade.” Six years down the road, I am afraid to say, my gloomy forecast is developing right on schedule.

I’ve been working on a book-length manuscript that explains these ideas, models, and data analyses for years. Some of my readers know that I posted a draft manuscript on my web site three years ago. There are two reasons why the gestation of this book was so long. First, it’s much easier to write about the past because we know how it turned out. Once a secular cycle has gone through its integrative and disintegrative phases, and enough time has elapsed to see that it’s truly done and dealt with, it becomes immovable past. Future research can bring to light new details, but the general outlines of the cycle have been fixed. Of course, nothing about the future is fixed.

Second, once you engage with the present you cannot avoid politics. Some of the SDT’s insights will anger the conservatives, others will anger the liberals. It’s a minefield. The pressure is on to check and re-check one’s data and analyses.

But now we are in 2016, and all the trends I’ve been writing about are accelerating. I feel it’s time to publish this book, come what it may.

The book should be out in early September. Below is the “blurb.” Comments are welcome.


John Steuart Curry, Tragic Prelude, 19381940, Kansas State Capitol, Topeka, KS.

Ages of Discord

A Structural-Demographic Analysis of American History

by Peter Turchin

Things are off on the wrong track.

A growing proportion (currently 70 percent) of Americans think so. The inflation-adjusted wage of American workers today is less than 40 years ago—but there are four times as many multimillionaires. As inequality grows, the infrastructure frays and the politics become more poisonous. Every year, more and more Americans, armed with guns, go on shooting rampages killing strangers and passers-by—and now, increasingly, the representatives of the state.

Troubling trends of this kind are constantly discussed by politicians, public intellectuals, and social scientists. But most commentators talk only a small slice of the overall problem. Indeed, what do increasing shooting rampages have to do with the polarization in Congress? Is there a connection between too many multimillionaires and government gridlock?

Analysis of historical states shows that in complex, large-scale human societies long periods of relative equity, prosperity, and internal peace are succeeded by protracted periods of inequity, increasing misery, and political instability. These crisis periods—“Ages of Discord”—tend to share characteristic features, experienced by many societies in different historical eras. In fact, America today has much in common with the Antebellum America of the 1850s and with Ancien Régime France on the eve of the French Revolution, to give just two examples. Can it really be true that our time of troubles is not so new, and that it arises because of similar underlying reasons? Ages of Discord marshals a cohesive theory and detailed historical data to show that this is, indeed, the case. The book takes the reader on a roller-coaster journey through American history: from the Era of Good Feelings of the 1820s to our first Age of Discord, which culminated in the American Civil War, to the post-war prosperity and, finally, to our present, second Age of Discord.

Unlike historical societies, however, we are in a unique position to take steps to escape the worst. Societal breakdown and ensuing wave of violence can be avoided by collective, cooperative action. The structural-demographic theory, explained in this book, helps us answer why demographic, social, and political trends changed direction from favorable to unfavorable in America around the 1970s. Such understanding is the key to developing reforms that would reverse these negative trends and move us to a more equitable, prosperous, and peaceful society.


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Michael Roberson

Any word on when/where we can preorder the book?

al loomis

“by collective, cooperative action”
the usa is not good at that. like-minded groups will form, but chiefly to kill different groups.

Franz Ramsey

This project sounds very interesting and I am really looking forward to the book.

Not having read the manuscript 3 years ago, I would put forward a concern regarding the sample size, albeit I am sure you thought about it and will adress it in the book:
These few examples that you give could just be cherrypicking. If we consider all possible polities in all countries from the last few centuries we would end up with a sample size of a few hundred. So it could be that the model just fits a subset of the data.

Lorenzo from Oz

Not everyone experiences changes since the 1970s as a deterioration. Women, queer folk, African-Americans have all made considerable advances. Indeed, one can reasonably claim that trying to manage increase diversity is part of the issue for the US.

Also, England in the 1770s-1780s was an extremely unequal and highly stratified society: one, moreover which lost an expensive war (American War of Independence). Yet, its political system coped fine while that of Ancien Regime France collapsed.

I have written an online essay discussing the whys and wherefores of the differences between British and French experience. As I use Chinese experience as a basis for comparative analysis of European patterns (rather than the other way around) it might appeal to you.

(You may notice I avoid any “evil people with bad ideas” analysis.)

Tom St.Clair

Having read Secular Cycles and been impressed by the historical insights offered by your structural-demographic approach, I downloaded the draft you referenced and was initially skeptical as to whether a model based on a an (admittedly brilliant) empirical analysis of agrarian civilizations could be applied to industrial societies. During this election cycle, my mind has returned to your work many times as I sought to grasp the implausible and baffling course of political events in the U.S. and Europe. As a liberal with a personal commitment to understanding the world as it really is, I am looking forward to having my political predispositions challenged and hopefully corrected by your analysis. Please let us know where we can preorder your book. Thanks for your valuable work.

Ross Hartshorn

Having greatly enjoyed your earlier draft, I look forward to the new version.

Guillaume Belanger

Can’t wait to read it!


I hate to rain on your parade, but…..

Median incomes in the US are UP 44-62% when adjusted properly for inflation, all income sources and household composition:

And this is despite the influx of 35-40 million immigrants pulling down the median while vastly improving their actual living standards.

Median houses are larger, with more A/C, more appliances, bigger and better entertainment devices, more cars and so on (see pages 20 -21):

In addition to markedly improved living standards and incomes the following improvements also have occurred In the US and/or globally:
Racism is down.
Tolerance and opportunity is up.
Happiness, life satisfaction and subjective well being are up (not so much in US, but it is still among the highest in world)
Education, numeracy and literacy are up
Percent in extreme poverty are down (way, way down globally, and the poor in the US are in the top decile of incomes globally)
Violence and wars are down
Crime is down (US violent crime is half of its level in 1980s and this applies to gun violence)
Air and water pollution are substantially better (at least in developed countries)
Lifespans are up and child mortality is way down in the developing countries.

I don’t know how to exactly measure infrastructure then vs now, but I would bet we are better connected in communication, storage and transportation today than any era ever before. Probably better by an order of magnitude (ever toured the Port of LA?, ever heard of the Internet? Ever seen how cheap airfare is vs 1980?)

I agree politics is more divisive and government is more intrusive and less effective. So at least we agree here. If this is the focus of your book, then it sounds great.

I also agree more people in the US think the country is on the wrong track, but considering how much better off we are globally and nationally, I think the real question is why do people feel so bad when their lives are so much better (other than with government itself)?

If we ask the right question, we might just get the right answer.

As for the second half of the 19th C in America which you point out as a concern, many of the foremost experts in economics and technology consider it one of if not THE greatest eras of economic and technological progress since the advent of agriculture ten thousand years earlier. Sure there was the matter of governments declaring war on each other, but again, let us ask the right questions of what the biggest problem was in the 1860s.

I realize I am not towing the proper line here and nodding in mindless agreement to your posts. My guess is I am an irritant.

But let us be crystal clear. The world and the US both are absolutely better in almost every way today than a generation ago, which was better than two generations ago. Indeed, other than politics and the boogie man of “inequality”, which is actually better defined as “inequality of outcome regardless of contribution” (but which once defined as such no longer reveals itself as a problem, as no reasonable people even desire equality of outcome regardless of contribution.)

So why are you writing a book on societal breakdown?


Government spending as a percentage of GDP has bounced up and down over the years, but if anything, it’s somewhat down compared to previous decades, so it’s hard to argue that government has actually increased:

However, financial insecurity has definitely increased with defined benefit pension plans (and for that matter, unions guaranteeing a steady wage to those without a college education) going the way of the dinosaur.

As for inequality, you win a prize for rhetoric, but you actually set up a strawman. Just as no one wants to see equality of outcome regardless of contribution, few people want to see extreme inequality of outcome (regardless of contribution). Say an economy that produces $13M with 113 people, 100 people getting $10K, 10 people getting $100K, 2 people getting $500K, and 1 person getting $10M, even if you think that that last person contributes 1000 times more than the people making $10K. Certainly, that last person isn’t working 1000 times harder or more than the people making $10K.
And that economy is closer to the current US economy that your strawman one where all outcomes are equal.



I said “politics is more divisive and government is more intrusive and less effective.” You respond to this with an irrelevant stat on government spending as a percent of GDP. Please respond to me, not to an argument I didn’t make. It wastes both our time.

I also argued that living standards, income, lifespan, health, tolerance, subjective well being, education, crime, violence and environmental quality have improved. Your response is to point out a slight deterioration in participation in pension and a major conversion from defined benefit (which are dangerously prone to catastrophic underfunding — see Illinois and Calif public pensions) to the more sane defined contribution types. Seriously? This is your best argument for the broad scale “Societal breakdown”?

As to unions, a basic understanding of the role of cartels and rent seeking would reveal that unions are the engines of their own demise. They reduce profits, lower productivity, dis-incentivize investment and research, raise prices and unfairly privilege existing workers over consumers and prospective workers. This is well documented. States and industries with heavy unionization have seen marked deterioration in economic performance relative to those with more freedom in labor. Unions are a cancer, just as guilds were in prior eras and cartels are internationally. Yes they increase security of the privileged existing worker, but it comes at a cost paid by future generations and non members. Unions are a way to beggar ones neighbor. They are not even zero sum, they are negative sum on net (the notable major past benefit they played was to offset exploitation by employers, another negative sum interaction).

I have been studying inequality for the past five years or so, and am always amazed at the rhetoric around the topic.

An honest discussion of a complex topic needs to start with a clear definition of the issue. In the case of inequality, this is the last thing that the town criers want to do. Income inequality absent measures of contribution (hours worked, value added or such) is simply a measure of EQUALITY OF RESULTS REGARDLESS OF EFFORT OR CONTRIBUTION. This form of inequality is the simplest and most naive version. Toddlers and even Capuchin monkeys grasp the concept of equal shares.

More sophisticated versions of fairness and equality include rule egalitarianism (equal rules apply to all with results playing out according to how well one performs), and results proportionate to effort or (better yet) contribution. The trouble with various definitions of fairness and equality is that they CONTRADICT. Equality regardless of contribution usually specifically contradicts results proportional to contribution and to rule egalitarianism.

Like I said above, income inequality is usually presented in the most naive or ill-defined form above. But when you look at who was poor in a given year (and it changes dramatically over time as people change in life stage or contribution) you will see that those at the bottom of the distributional curve pretty much do not work full time. The majority (69%) don’t work at all (retired, unemployed, “disabled” or students), with only 16% of lowest quintile households having even a single full time worker!

Again, this reflects not so much class, but life stage. The low rewards are going to people making little or no contribution to fellow humans FOR THAT YEAR. As the students or unemployed re-enter the market they promptly show up somewhere else in the distribution for that year, commensurate with their contribution within the market. Later we retire.

Your comment in your example that someone doesn’t work 1000 times as hard as someone else reveals a complete and total misunderstanding of economics. Profits, wages and prices act as both signals and incentives within the dynamics of the system. Failure to grasp this just means economics will always be incomprehensible. And note that 99.9% of people don’t grasp it. Many even still believe in the long since discarded labor theory of value.

The reward of a brain surgeon or entrepreneur may be a thousand times or more higher than I can get by creating and selling my art. The market is telling me nobody values my art at all. It is effectively worthless. Instead I should switch to surgery or starting successful new businesses if at all possible. It is signaling this and rewarding those who listen and can deliver. Similarly it is signaling people that if they want to make money in the market they should get an education, develop marketable skills and work full time at enriching the lives of others in ways others are willing to pay.*

The Waltons, Jobs, Gates, LeBrons, and Oprahs are adding a lot of value to others and are being rewarded in proportion according to the institutional rules.

I am aware that it is possible to be rewarded in excess of contribution, and that some are rewarded by cheating rather than following the rules. This points back to the essential category of rule egalitarianism. And I agree this is a problem. But if that is the discussion, let us have it without naive discussions of outcomes regardless of contribution.

I like painting though and often choose to do so rather than work. Economics just highlights the size of the tradeoffs.



I understand economics very well, but you evidently do not understand psychology very well (for one, arrogance does not win you friends).

Arguing that Sam Walton deserves 1000X more wealth is all well and good (and I understand the argument perfectly), but I challenge you to go make that argument to the denizens in “Hillbilly Elegy”:

Also, something that is more than just feelings has to be measurable, so please give statistical evidence for how government is “more intrusive and less effective”.


I understand economics very well…”

Sorry, but your example seemed to adopt some version of the labor theory of value (where compensation is based on how much harder people work?), and it seemed to neglect marginal productivity and the essential roles of prices and profits to act as incentives and signals to increase productivity and efficiency.

Most people intuitively adopt a zero sum view of economics, adopt a top down rather than bottoms up view of order and design, and don’t think about the inherent conflict between equality of outcome and equality of contribution. They have trouble differentiating between constructive as opposed to destructive forms of competition and don’t grasp how the former is essential at driving economic growth.

Paul Rubin explains this well in his brilliant article on folk economics.

Or there is Cosmides and Tooby on Moral Heuristics

“Arguing that Sam Walton deserves 1000X more wealth is all well and good (and I understand the argument perfectly), but I challenge you to go make that argument to the denizens in “Hillbilly Elegy”

I have heard this argument before on the Internet. Not sure if it has a logical fallacy or error name, but it deserves one. Let us call it the “you lose the argument if you can’t explain it to an ignorant hillbilly, fallacy”. No, Richard, that is not how logical or empirical arguments are settled, and you pretty much get two and a half demerits by suggesting that it is.



In a democracy, it is indeed how it works.

If you can’t persuade people to your point of view, then your argument fails, and it’s the voters giving you demerits, not the other way around.


Where do I start…

1). We were discussing economic theory not democracy. If the votes of the majority contradict scientific or economic theory, the institutional procedure is not to revise the theory to make it more palatable. Should we tell Einstein and Smith that they were wrong because “we voted on it?”

2). Even if we were to vote on ADOPTING the theory, the system is not built in such a way to hinge on the minority views of ignorant “hillbillies.” We actually live in something called a representative democracy, with elected representatives and competing branches of government. Much of this is specifically designed to contradict the effects of ignorance and special interests throwing sand in the system.

3). Read the first paper I linked to. It describes the challenges of getting people to understand counterintuitive concepts. The world uneducated hillbillies would create is the world hillbillies would suffer in.

The greatest sociological challenge in all history is the PROBLEM OF COOPERATION. It is a hard one to solve. Very, very hard and counterintuitive. If we wait for the least intelligent and educated people to determine our institutions and mindsets we will all fail. The better solution is to create competing institutional arrangements and allow people — even hillbillies — to select where they will live and which institutions they will live by. This creates a dynamic of exploration, emulation, benchmarking, tolerance, and constructive competition.

But back to the original point, does the first article help clarify economics for you?


Roger, you’re very locked up in your ivory tower (and thus why folks like you are pretty much useless for anything).

Unlike current physics, where we have very high predictability, theories in economics are nowhere near as rigorous in terms of matching reality. If you’re going to compare with physics, economics hasn’t even gotten to Newton (and that’s because human behavior is much more complex than anything in the natural world).

Because of that, empirics should trump theory in economics. And I’m going to wager that those hillbillies who you disdain have a much greater understanding of their pain and reality of their current situation than you with your Econ 101 theories do.



I have not been collecting much in the articles on regulatory and political sclerosis, but here are some starting places:

Here is an article on the growth in regulation and the harmful effects on productivity:

On the growth in occupations requiring licenses:

Here is an article on the immense economic costs of growing regulation:

Here is an article on regulatory changes in competitiveness in the US


No, Peter, we don’t.

I can easily document every fact with the possible exception of infrastructure. My question is why are you writing a book implying deteriorating qualitative conditions when in almost every case the conditions are:
A) Improving
B). Better than ever before in history
C). Better in the US than in most other places.

Crime, violence, standards of living, income, lifespan, health, tolerance, subjective well being, and education are all improving globally and in the US. No well informed person disputes any of these as general, broad scale trends (they can only point to narrow exceptions proving the general rule). Do you need links on the state of the world?

Sure, the world isn’t perfect. Sure we can find some things that are deteriorating. And yes, we can find some areas where the rate of improvement is slowing. But like I said, if this is your initial premise, say so rather than acting like the world is deteriorating in front of our faces.

So why are you writing a book which hints that they are deteriorating? What value are you adding to humanity by pretending something is true to weave your intended narrative?

If you want to add value, start with the way the world actually is, and explain it. Do not start with how you wish the world looked to rationalize your preferred worldview and then weave the desired narrative from there.

I assume you want feedback. This is mine. Sorry.

Loren Petrich

As to “Better in the US than in most other places”, look at various quality-of-life indices. Quality-of-life indices like the Fund for Peace’s Fragile States Index, the Economist magazine’s Democracy Index, and the United Nations’ Human Development Index. is a good collection of statistics with a nice front end, so you can see for yourself which countries do best in life expectancy and the like.

The United States has some very impressive competition, like northern European nations, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Its political system is rather sadly antiquated, and US-sponsored nation builders have often recommended alternatives like a parliamentary system. Like in Japan and Iraq. The right wing denounced Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she said as much, but she was stating what the US was doing in practice.


I am well acquainted with the various indices and trends and that is why I mentioned them. I am well aware that many Northern European nations and Ex British colonies are also doing quite well. That is further cause for celebration, no?

In general, all nations which adopt the enlightenment liberal ideology of tolerance, equality and dignity for all, reasonably free markets, science and open access democracy do quite well. Some countries are starting to outperform the US on many of these dimensions. That would be something I hope the professor covers.


Roger, ‘That would be something I hope the professor covers.’

The professor covers his own ideas. Write a book and cover yours!


I will take that as a polite way of saying I should keep my opinions out of this discussion.


Not at all! The author invited comments, and you presented yours.
However, you disagree vehemently, as you put it, with literally every Turchin’s word, including the book that is not published, even with its topic.
What’s the point of telling an author to write about this and not about that? Authors write books about what interests them. That’s why i said “Write your own book”, and I meant no offense.

I read through your comments and found no explanation why people feel unhappy despite so many life improvements that you cite. Are they ungrateful? Instead of counting their blessings they grumble and are getting ready to vote for Trump…? But why if life is so good?


Well, for one, life kind of sucks for many in this country now, which Turchin and I have shown with various data (including changing mortality rates and drug abuse rates in different regions of the US), but our resident Pollyanna refuses to acknowledge such data and uses averages and medians (which would hide any increase in inequality).

It’s as if he went around telling Russians after the collapse of the Soviet Union that life was great and they should feel wonderful because everything had gotten better for Europeans in general between 1990 and 2010.


Roger, your argument is the exact same one that Hillary and the Democrats just recently made during the DNC.

For the sake of this country (because having a bigoted, ignorant, vindictive authoritarian demagogue with poor impulse control, a tiny attention span, and little patriotism or caring for his fellow man as President of the US would be a terrifying disaster), I hope that more voters agree with you than disagree with you, Yet it is also the case that over a majority of this country believes that the US is currently on the wrong track and a large minority of the population believes that the dark dystopia that Trump described in the RNC is the current reality of the US.

Ever thought to consider why?


So I am disagreeing vehemently with you and the author, yet my argument is — according to you– the exact same as that of the DNC. Does that mean you and Turchin disagree with the DNC, or am I misreading something? Please do clarify.

Yes, I frequently consider why this and other nations are shifting away from the enlightenment values to nationalistic, populist, statist and socialist ideologies despite the latter list’s thousands of year track record of failure. The answer is pretty long though.


Roger: To an extent. I believe that the DNC’s optimism is persuasive to a majority of the country. But because of increasing inequality (of everything), which your stats, which are based on averages and medians, would not capture (but which the DNC touched upon), their optimism (and your viewpoint) do not reflect the reality of a large segment of the American populace. Which is why they are even entertaining the thought of voting for a bigoted, ignorant, vindictive authoritarian demagogue with poor impulse control, a tiny attention span, and little patriotism or caring for his fellow man to be President of the US.

Roger, I have to wonder, do you learn or do you just like to argue in bad faith? Over numerous posts on here, Turchin and I have presented data showing that there has been growing unevenness/inequality (such as changes in life expectancy) in the US. Yet you don’t acknowledge them and keep going back to how, on average, everything in life has become better (and for large segments of the population, such as the college-educated and minorities, it has, but for working-class whites, especially rural working-class whites, it definitely has not).

Loren Petrich

Roger’s “data” seem to me to be very conveniently selected.

For instance, in the greatest period of prosperity for the US’s blue-collar working class, the 1950’s, that workforce was heavily unionized. If labor unions are as debilitating as Roger seems to think, then the US would have been conquered by the Soviet Union back then. Unions are also strong in several European countries, and they haven’t exactly been conquered by the Soviet Union or its successor Russia. Unions can go to excess, but they can and do give their members more clout in the workplace. Many white-collar people have not felt that they needed unions, but they often have a sort of union: professional organizations. Even businesses have unions of a sort: Chambers of Commerce and the like.

Also, taxes on the highest incomes were high back then, and one has to ask why that was also not economically debilitating.

As to the Gilded Age, it was not called the Gilded Age for nothing — its outward appearance of great success hid a lot of social problems. These problems provoked a lot of reform efforts, and that is why the Gilded Age was followed by the Progressive Era. Furthermore, the defenses of the Gilded Age that I’m seeing here remind me of an ethical principle that many opponents of Communism have attributed to Communism: “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

The Progressive Era was one of the US’s periodic bursts of reform, like the Civil War era, the New Deal era, and the Sixties era. The US seems overdue for one. Stuff like reducing pollution was done by government regulation, despite protests by the affected industries that doing so would cost too much.

Evidence of the US going downhill?

Tuition costs going way up: — someone calculated that at one university back in 1979, it took only 8 hours of minimum-wage work to buy one credit hour of tuition. Nowadays, it takes something like 60 hours of minimum-wage work.

Housing prices have risen much faster than inflation, despite a lot of electronic gadgets getting much cheaper, especially counting performance per unit price.

Political polarization. I remember when the right wing hated President Bill Clinton as some sort of left-wing ogre, even though he was a very moderate sort of president. The right wing also hates President Barack Obama for similar specious reasons. “Obamacare” was something that was knocking around in the Republican Party and its supporters for nearly three decades at least, and even implemented by a Republican in Massachusetts as “Romneycare”. But the right wing foamed at the mouth as if President Obama had stationed soldiers in every doctor’s office and clinic and hospital in the nation.

In both the Clinton years and the Obama years, some politicians shut down government operations by obstructing appropriations bills, something almost unheard of in previous decades. Also in the Obama years, Republican Senators filibustered like crazy, much more than either party did in previous administrations.

Donald Trump’s candidacy is a horrible sign. What he stated in recent speeches can only be called Fascism — he being a great heroic leader that can save the nation from its problems without pesky democratic institutions or human-rights considerations getting in the way. He also has a suspicious fondness for Vladimir Putin, and the Republican Party recently weakened its commitment to Ukraine. He is also thin-skinned about criticism, claiming that one judge who ruled against him was biased because of his Mexican accent. He seems to want the glory of the Presidency without doing much of the work of it, and perhaps not surprisingly, his positions are not very coherent. His Vice President, Governor Mike Pence, seems willing to do that work, it seems.

Some psychologists consider him a textbook case of narcissism, and his former ghostwriter now regrets ghostwriting his book “The Art of the Deal”, because it helped promote him. Also, many Republicans dislike him, though they seem willing to hold their noses and campaign and vote for him.

Rise of ideologies celebrating selfishness and greed. In the Gilded Age, it was Social Darwinism. Nowadays, it’s Randism.



On Unions
The vitality of the US after WW II was a package deal. Unions were just one part of that package. The US was incomprehensibly more productive than the USSR (and just about any other nation) overall. There has been rent seeking and avoidance of creative destruction in every society. The effect of unions was to reduce growth in union dominated private industries and areas and move it into less dominated.

Unions certainly raise wages for privileged members at the expense of non members. They are an unfair privileging, rent-seeking mechanism. They do not, however tend to raise productivity, indeed they on net probably lower it. Thus they cannot explain rising living standards. What gives employees market power is COMPETITION between employers for the productivity of employees.

I have no issues with the Chamber of Commerce, or even with voluntary Union participation. My argument is against cartels, entrance barriers and rent seeking, all of which beggar others at the expense of the the privileged. It is zero sum thinking which reduces human welfare on net.

I am against behavior which enriches the privileged at the expense of the general welfare. Why aren’t you?

On Taxes

Why are you bringing this up? Effective (after deductions) tax rates were only slightly higher back then. But who are you arguing with? I support progressive taxation and believe the US income tax system is among the most progressive in the world, and that this is in general a good thing. don’t you?

On the Second Half of the 19th C

You are being vague. What specifically were the social problems in context to overall changes in general well being? I am not denying that societies learn, evolve and adapt over time. I am a fan of well designed social safety nets, environmental regulations, progressive taxation and such. Why are you assuming I am not?

On Evidence of the US going downhill

I agree that tuition is going up excessively. This is an area of massive government distortion. Do I need to explain how that works? The same situation applies to health care, with the same root cause.

Housing prices have actually gone up pretty much with inflation overall.

The problem areas for affordability are concentrated in areas with building restrictions supplied by guess who?

Yet even with this, if you look at the housing affordability index since the late 70s, the affordability has actually improved despite substantial gains in size and amenities.

But on a more broad scale response, how in the heck are examples of some areas seeing above average inflation an example of a society going downhill? Are you even aware of what an average is?

Let me repeat my comment to Richard:

Lifespan, literacy, tolerance, equality of races, gender and sexual orientation, income, subjective well being, education, health, crime, violence, and environmental quality (and now housing affordability) all improve and your response is “yeah but some areas saw above average inflation?”

I would be hard pressed to invent an answer which makes my point better than yours. It is clear you are digging as hard as you can to try to find something negative in all the good news just to preserve your worldview (the world is going to hell and we need to redesign it fast!)

On Political Polarization

I agreed with this in my initial comment to Professor Turchin. If he wants to start his book with how general conditions are still improving but political polarization and faith and respect in government are plummeting then I would have said “great idea for a book, I look forward to it and hope it is as good as the last one, which was the best book of 2015.”

I cannot imagine a worse candidate than Trump, and a worse pair of candidates than we have this year. Something is seriously wrong in politics and with how our government is working.

I know nothing about an influx of “Randians” (I can honestly say I have only met two in my entire life) but am pretty sure Trump is the antithesis of any branch of libertarian thinking. Indeed, he is pretty much what the GOP would look like absent any classical liberal influences. Not a pretty picture.

John Reighley

Would it be possible to upload that manuscript draft again?

John Reighley


Loren Petrich

Peter Turchin, thanx for writing your book. I look forward to getting it and reading it. I’ve seen your work on US history, and it will be nice to see it all in one place.

As to things that liberals won’t like, I’m guessing restricting immigration. Liberals don’t like it because it seems xenophobic. Given that many opponents of immigration often seem very xenophobic, it seems hard to object to immigration without seeming like a xenophobe.

As to things that conservatives won’t like, I’m guessing wealth distribution and wages as fraction of GDP. The best times are the more equal times and times when wages are more of the GDP. That’s not something that many conservatives want to hear, judging from their reactions to the likes of Thomas Piketty’s recent book and the 1% vs. 99% meme.

I’ve seen some interesting work on American history by journalist Colin Woodard. In “American Nations”, he attributes regional differences to which European settlers and their descendants got there first. In “American Character”, he analyzes American history as a struggle between individual liberty and the common good. He had lived in Soviet-bloc countries, nations that had taken common-good concerns to grotesque lengths. He also points to the antebellum South as a place that took individual liberty to extremes. As it happened, this involved restricting others’ liberty, like having heavy property qualifications for public office, and making others pay taxes that they pretty much exempted themselves from. This even took the form of claiming the right to own slaves — human beings treated like farm animals.

This individualism was part of the Confederate elite’s undoing. They preferred growing the cash crops that they liked to grow, crops like cotton and tobacco, rather than food crops to feed the Confederacy’s army. They were also reluctant to lend their slaves out to build fortifications and the like. Some Confederates called President Jefferson Davis a dictator for what he did in the war, like drafting young men for the Confederate Army.

One of the bigger plantation owners, James Henry Hammond, proposed the mudsill theory of society, that to have a nice society requires having a miserable working class, something like the mudsill of a building. But late in the war, as Union troops pushed into Confederate territory, the Confederacy took to requisitioning supplies. James Henry Hammond objected to that when some Confederate army officers showed up at his home. He protested that it was like “branding on my forehead ‘Slave'”.

Colin Woodard also noted the Gilded Age, and how the business elite’s lackeys defended a great freedom: the right to be exploited. That was the time of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and Upton Sinclair’s exposure of the greatly unsanitary conditions at meatpacking facilities.

He also notes that the 1960’s radicals had a different notion of individualism: instead of pursuit of individual gain, it was pursuit of individual fulfillment.

Another interesting work on American history is the cycles proposed by historians Arthur Schlesingers Sr. and Jr.

They propose that US history alternates between liberal and conservative periods. The liberal periods are periods of reform and public purpose, and the conservative periods are periods of stasis and private interest. Liberal periods can be hard to sustain, especially if these periods produces successes, and conservative periods accumulate unsolved social problems that society’s leaders either do not recognize or else dismiss as non-problems not worth addressing.

This cycle is faster than Peter Turchin’s ones, though it has two long conservative periods, the Gilded Age and the current one, which I call Gilded Age II. The Gilded Age started at the end of Reconstruction after the Civil War, when Southern reactionaries undid much of it, and Gilded Age II started at the end of the Sixties period, in the late 1970’s. I expected the Clinton Presidency to end it, but that did not happen.

Interestingly, these two long conservative periods correspond to downward parts in Peter Turchin’s long-term cycle.


It’s occurred to me that the 2016 election is a lot like the 1896 election.

Both are occurring at the end of a Gilded Age where inequality has increased significantly.

And few people realize this now (because socially liberal Democrats have claimed the “Progressive” label), but the Progressives of William Jennings Bryan were not only for the little guy, anti-elite, anti-banker (against the Money Power), pro-union, and feminist (suffragist) but also isolationist, racist (socially conservative) fundy Christians who didn’t believe in evolution.
Other than being feminist, that’s a pretty good description of a Trumpist.
Bryan was also seen as someone waaaay out of the mainstream of that time and the GOP ran a nasty campaign against him warning that he would wreck society as people knew it, bringing their massive money advantage to bear.
Meanwhile, McKinley had the support of all city folk (unions, who thought that Bryan’s bimetallism would lead to massive inflation, as well as business and bankers) and (according to Wikipedia) “stressed his pluralistic commitment to prosperity for all groups (including minorities)”.
1896 was also when the pro-business (Grover Cleveland) Democrats existed their party as it was taken over by Bryan Progressives (we see the same thing happening in the GOP with Trump losing Koch and company)

If you look at the map of the 1896 election map, you’ll see that it is very similar to the Clinton-Trump map (but with the parties reversed):,_1896

Lee Drutman (building off of Michael Lind: and believes that the Clintonites and Trumpists define their respective parties. However, I do believe that past is prologue and it won’t be a straight path. Like the GOP of the 4th party system, the Dems will dominate for the coming decades (their coalition has the numbers; the Trumpist GOP, with its narrow dependence on older/working-class/male/Southern whites, which are all shrinking demographics), will find that, just like the Dems of the 4th Party System, they can’t win unless the other side is split. That may well happen, though, as, like the 4th party system GOP, where Progressive Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt and conservative Republicans like Taft split the GOP, there will be an election where the Wall-Street-friendly hawkish Clintonite and anti-Wall-Street populist dovish Sandernista wings openly split. This may happen as soon as right after HRC’s Presidency, in 2020 or 2024, with Cory Booker assembling a minority+suburbanite coalition vs. Elizabeth Warren’s (all-white dovish) far-left wing. Other than that period, though, the Clinton/Bloomberg Democrats coalition of minorities + socially liberal suburbanites + city folks + Wall Street will dominate American politics for decades.

Eventually (30 or so years hence), the populist GOP will drop their racism, and the socially conservative working class Hispanics who had recoiled from the Trumpists (and thus been an integral part of the Clintonite/Dem coalition for decades) will swing over to their side, ushering in the 8th Party System.


Soory, I meant “Populists” when I said “Progressive”, and add anti-Semitic to anti-banker, pro-labor, pro-farmer feminist isolationist socially conservative fundy Christian.

Paul Gowan

Saw this image for first time today.

John Steuart Curry, Tragic Prelude, 1938–1940, Kansas State Capitol, Topeka, KS.

That is exectly the kund of inage to use for your book cover.
It could be parodied to reflect modern storms and disputes as well.
Sorry I missed seeing it first time through.

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